Report on visit to St Mary's Bourne Street on 16/01/2010 - by Brian O'Hagan

St Marys Bourne StreetA torrential downpour had sent one member scurrying to take refuge in Peter Jones, emerging some hours later to collect her husband, but the dozen members (and the few tourists who wandered in) had a fascinating afternoon with the organist Richard Hills.

Richard began with a general introduction to the Church - it was built as a chapel for the servants of the parishioners of St. Paul's Knightsbridge. So perhaps there was not quite the finish to the interior as one would expect for a "high-class" church - such as St Paul's - by leaving the brickwork exposed. There was a new side aisle/chapel added a little later (and of better quality) and this has been restored in all its colour and glory as befits a church in the high-church tradition. Perhaps the rest will be done later. I hope so.

The building is situated on the corner of somewhat plebeian/artisan Graham Terrace and Bourne Street. In "estate-agent speak" it abuts Knightsbridge/Sloane Square. But neither is it Mayfair and it probably does not have the postcode for Pimlico - to my N19 eyes it was an enclave for the better-off, and I wondered where they sent their servants!

In any case the acoustic of the church was warm and reverberant.

One surprise was that entry to the organ loft was via an outside gangway across the roof! I found myself imagining Quasimodo assisting some early titulaire of Notre Dame. Having negotiated entry, there was room - just! - for everyone either to crowd round the 8-person music stand for the choristers or to gather next to Richard as he systematically demonstrated the instrument's capabilities with a suitably grand piece by Sir Hubert Parry. Although English to the core, the instrument also suited French Romantic repertoire well. Richard talked about the casework - by an uncle of Parry's (Gambier Parry) - which brought out the sense of tradition we all felt.

Members were then invited to play. As I don't trust myself to play, I then settled to enjoy the music, which was predominantly English - I should say British, as Rhosymedre (by RVW) featured. Having been enjoined to experience the acoustic in the body of the kirk I repaired downstairs only to be captivated by what I took to be Whitlock ambling in the Auvergne. I rushed upstairs/out/through/across/in to ask the name of the piece - to my surprise it was a Reger Prelude...zu Bethlehem Geboren, says the crumpled envelope which I used to make notes. The rain had turned to sleet at roof level, so I remained aloft. None of the members cared to attempt a Sturm-und-Drang Toccata - though this was well within the instrument's capabilities - they probably felt that the weather was doing enough already! Might I suggest that if the next Government impose stricter safety legislation, Richard should approach the local woodworker David Linley to ask if he could design a covered walk-way, perhaps along the lines of his father's well-known aviary in London Zoo. (You never know, perhaps the direct approach might work.)

Let me end by thanking the organisers, the wardens of Saint Mary's and especially Richard for demonstrating the versatility/capabilities of the instrument and apologies if my dilettante approach means that members are short-changed on technical details.

P.S.The previous day I had attended the Sabbath Eve service at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue and was steeped in the Sabbath Peace engendered by the prayers and by the music of Louis Lewandowski which is so integrated with the liturgy of the Liberal Movement. Might I suggest that CLESO members explore this composer's work? There are a number of Organ Preludes, Psalm Settings in German (Der Herr Ist Mein Hirte is particularly beautiful), and  best of all, a full-throated Psalm 150 in Hebrew, with probably the best word-painting I have ever heard, as the upper voices imitate timbrels and the basses hold the last vowel of "shofar" (rams-horn) until they are blue in the face. I would have loved to have heard some Lewandowski on the versatile instrument that we heard in January!

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